25 Rights NGOs Announce Women’s Rights Award Winner: Zarifa Ghafari, Youngest Female Afghan Mayor

The Geneva Summit announces today that its prestigious women’s rights award will go this year to Zarifa Ghafari, Afghanistan’s youngest female mayor and a survivor of three Taliban assassination attempts.

Ghafari will receive the Geneva Summit 2022 International Women’s Rights Award at a ceremony on Wednesday, April 6th, where she will address UN diplomats, human rights activists and journalists from around the world attending the 14th annual event.

Ghafari was chosen for her “fearless defence of women’s rights in Afghanistan, a cause for which she sacrificed a great deal, and for being an inspiring example for women and girls around the world,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of United Nations Watch, a co-organizer of the conference along with Liberal International, Human Rights Foundation, and over 20 other human rights groups.

“It is an honor to receive this award on behalf of the unspoken people in Afghanistan, the brave women who sacrificed their lives always for the welfare of the country. The women who are unable to leave their homes, not able to work, who are not able to speak out,” Ghafari said.

“Using this platform I want to spread a message of unity, love and peace to everyone, to the Taliban, to the people and to those who really care about Afghanistan. I want to say please, let’s work together, men and women, so we can have a bright today and future,” she continued.

Ghafari was appointed mayor of Maidan Shahr, a city in conservative Taliban territory, in July 2018. Protests and death threats due to her age and gender–she was just 26–delayed her taking up the post but were ultimately unable to dampen her desire to take office.

After assuming her duties she was targeted by the Taliban and IS, surviving three assassination attempts. Her father was killed by Taliban gunmen in retaliation at her refusal to step aside.

As the Taliban swept to power in mid-August, fighters arrived at Ghafari’s home searching for her. She was forced to flee into exile in Germany, describing the moment as “more painful than losing my dad.” She has since bravely returned to Afghanistan to coordinate humanitarian aid efforts.

Previous laureates of the International Women’s Rights Award include Iranian journalist Masih Alinejad, who fights to liberate women from forced hijab laws; Congolese activist Julienne Lusenge, who combats rape as a weapon of war; and Pakistani campaigner Gulalai Ismail, who trains women in human rights leadership.

Ghafari will join other courageous champions of human rights from around the world at this year’s Geneva Summit, including dissidents, activists, victims, and relatives of political prisoners from Cuba, Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and Nicaragua, who will testify on the human rights situation in their countries.

The global gathering is acclaimed as a one-stop opportunity to hear from and meet front-line human rights advocates, many of whom have personally suffered imprisonment and torture. “It’s a focal point for dissidents worldwide,” said Neuer.

The annual conference will be held on the heels of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s main annual session, which includes China, Cuba and Russia as members.

Videos of past speaker testimonies are available at the Geneva Summit’s YouTube channel.

Admission to this year’s April 6 Summit is free and open to the public, but registration is mandatory. The conference will also be available via live webcast.

Other Summit speakers include:

Enes Kanter Freedom, Turkish NBA player and activist currently risking his career to speak out against China’s persecution of the Uyghurs, and winner of the Geneva Summit 2022 Courage Award

Sophie Luo, Wife of imprisoned and tortured Chinese human rights lawyer Ding Jiaxi, a prominent member of the New Citizens Movement, a group of activists calling for greater government transparency and an end to state corruption.

Timothy Cho, North Korean human rights activist and two-time defector, who survived torture and two imprisonments before escaping to the UK where he works with the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea.

Areej al-Sadhan, Sister of Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, a humanitarian aid worker who was kidnapped in Riyadh by Saudi authorities during a mass crackdown on human right activists in 2018 for posting satirical tweets about the regime.

Hamlet Lavastida, Cuban artist and Amnesty International recognized prisoner of conscience released in late 2021 on condition of exile.

Hassan Akkad, Award-winning Syrian filmmaker who was arrested and tortured for protesting the Assad regime, and had a face-to-face audience with Bashar al-Assad before escaping Syria.

Hopewell Chin’ono, Zimbabwean journalist imprisoned three times for reporting on government corruption.

Joey Siu, Hongkongese-American activist, policy advisor at Hong Kong Watch, and advisor to the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC), arrested in October 2021 for protesting the Beijing Olympics.

Leonid Volkov, chief of staff to imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who ran Navalny’s campaigns for Mayor of Moscow in 2012 and his bid to get onto the presidential ballot in 2018.

Mariam Claren, Daughter of Nahid Taghavi, a German-Iranian women’s rights activist sentenced to more than ten years in prison for propaganda activities against the regime. 

Miguel Henrique Otero, Owner and CEO of El Nacional, Venezuela’s last remaining independent media outlet whose headquarters were seized in February, forced into exile for speaking out against the Maduro regime.

Minh-Hoang Pham, Vietnamese math professor who wrote a blog critical of the regime and taught activism to his students at Ho Chi Minh City University, jailed and then deported to France.

Rushan Abbas, Founder of the Campaign for Uyghurs and sister to detained Uyghur doctor Gulshan Abbas.

Tatsiana Khomich, Belarusian Coordination Council Representative for Political Prisoners and the sister of imprisoned opposition leader Maria Kalesnikava.

Tenzin Tsundue, Tibetan writer and activist who recently completed a 127-day 20,000km protest Himalayan protest hike to draw attention to China’s aggressive expansionist policies along  the Sino-India border.